A deferential search for the nearest bishop

Catherine Bennett isn’t fooled or wowed or befuddled or rendered absent-minded by the archbishop.

After a great success with Jemima Khan, the New Statesman had made the archbishop guest editor. Why? Why not?…As it turned out, the Archbishop of Canterbury’s internship proved equally inspired, exposing a public tolerance of episcopal power that, even as it dismays reformers, can only encourage undimmed Anglican ambition.

What was that all about? It seemed more like a Monty Python joke than anything else. Who’s the next guest editor, the queen? Could they have found anyone less appropriate for a putative left-wing magazine?

The response to his provocation could hardly have been more satisfactory. Clearly, everyone had forgotten his flirtation with sharia and that other time, with Labour’s equality bill, when Williams won his church a special bigotry exemption.

Well why? If so, why?

Even rightwing Anglicans, who recoil from Williams’s politics, relish the spectacle of the established church being recognised, unlike their competitors, as a prominent and respected meddler in sublunary affairs.

Yes of course they damn well do, but what is the Staggers doing helping them?

Next up was the Rev Michael Banner, on Thought for the Day, exulting in the bravery of his spiritual brother – and boss – Rowan. “The voice of prophecy – the voice of what Christians have called the Spirit of God – ought never to be silenced and ought never to go unheeded,” said Banner. What, never? some listeners must have thought as they sprinted for the off-switch. How about Rasputin?

Or Savonarola, or Jerry Falwell, or Fred Phelps, or Terry Jones (of the Florida clan), or all the various “spiritual leaders” of Hizbollah, Jamaat-e-Islami, the Muslim Brotherhood, al-Shabab and all the other “spiritual” gangs – how about them?

It is this “voice”, Banner continued, presumably alluding to the established church, speaking through him on the BBC, “which constantly challenges a complacent satisfaction with the existing social order, which dreams of a better society” etc etc.

Ah yes, the established church and the BBC joining hands to challenge complacent satisfaction with the existing social order. Makes the eyes mist up, don’t it.

But don’t non-prophetic voices also do that, without recourse to a contested spiritual authority? That’s the great thing about pulpits: they don’t take questions. And Banner was right in thinking that his superhuman case for being “heeded”, over inferior, secular voices emanating from, say, charities or academies, is often accepted as blindingly obvious.

Pulpits don’t take questions because god doesn’t take questions. A great deal too convenient, if you ask me.

Last week, the media response to Terry Pratchett’s intensely troubling investigation of assisted dying was, similarly, a deferential search for the nearest bishop, even though a bishop’s moral insight on this question, whatever he may add about palliative care, represents not so much superior expertise as an immutable faith requirement. Defying an overwhelming lay majority that supports assistance for dying people who want to control their deaths, Rowan Williams has called the proposal, flatly, “immoral”.

He’s the immoral one.

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